For Students and Preceptors, Some Advice

It’s that special time of year again. Preceptors all the place over are gearing up to go to the high peaks of the north woods to midwife baby nurselings into the world. It’s up to us to train them well.

Some advice to you 4th year students from an old nurse-preceptor:

1. Relax. Breathe deeply. You aren’t expected to know everything, even if it were possible.

2. Your job is to learn as much as possible. Think of yourself as a sponge. Soak it all in. Take responsibility for your learning. Seek out learning opportunities whenever possible. You will never get this opportunity again.

3. Always ask questions. And question everything. See #2.

4. If your preceptor tells you not to do something, don’t do it.

5. You aren’t the unit gopher, and  shouldn’t be treated as such. Some will try though: refer these to your preceptor.

6. Learn safely. Know the limits of your practice. If ever in doubt, even the tiniest smidgen of uncertainty, ask your preceptor.

7. If your preceptor asks you to look something up, it’s pretty certain s/he will ask you about it the next time.

8. You will make mistakes. Your preceptor won’t be as freaked out by them as you are. The point is to learn from them.

9. Show up for shift. Be punctual. Your preceptor probably doesn’t care much one way or the other if you don’t. This is your learning experience, after all, not hers. However, poor attendance makes it far more difficult for your preceptor to write that all important reference letter.

10. Poor attendance also signals to your preceptor you aren’t very engaged and you take your professional responsibilities lightly. Which means she’s liable to take you less seriously.

11. Refer all conflicts with other staff members to your preceptor. It’s her/his job to deal with them, and probably few of them are your fault.

12. If you and your preceptor are not getting along, or you’re feeling you aren’t getting the best experience, don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your preceptor, or failing that, your faculty advisor. Again, this is your learning experience.

For preceptors:

1. Cut your student some slack. Novice practitioner means just that: she (or he) is bright and shiny and new and hasn’t made the leap between theory and practice.

2. You weren’t half as smart or experienced or clever as you think you were in fourth year. Therefore, no wingeing about how they don’t make nursing students like they used to.

3. Your student isn’t stupid. And probably is more up-to-date on best practice than you.

4. Having a student is a tremendous way to sharpen up your own practice. Take advantage of it.

5. Be aware that you have a very great responsibility, shaping the professional practice of a new nurse. Act accordingly.


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  1. #1 by rach on Tuesday 02 February 2010 - 1233

    Excellent advice not just for newbie nurses/perceptors but for professionals in all sorts of fields who train newbies.

    Much of this I will put into practice in my own capacities.

  2. #2 by DreamingTree on Wednesday 03 February 2010 - 1742

    Very good list. I was fortunate to have a wonderful preceptor. She had a very laid back attitude, but was an amazing source of knowledge. Perfect for my personality.

    Above all else, we all need to keep asking questions. I worry about those who treat the job from a task-oriented approach. Cross those tasks off the list — get the job done on time. Sometimes you gotta pause, think things through, & ask a few questions. You know…critical thinking…

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